2014 is a big year for me. Not only is it my 30th year of life, but it also marks 20 years since I was diagnosed with bone cancer. Surviving cancer and living with its aftermath for 20 years has profoundly shaped me and the choices I have made, mostly for the better. However, cancer also taught me a lot about self-doubt; although I hate to admit it, cancer trained me to think that I was fragile and seared into my brain the self-doubter’s chorus: “I can’t”. “I can’t have kids.” “I can’t run because I used my fibula to save my right arm.” “I can’t do XYZ sports because my right wrist is now fused.” “I can’t travel because I might get sick.” And so the cancer-survivor self-doubters’ anthem goes.
Why First Descents?
Last summer, I went on a trip that changed my life, and my outlook. An organization called First Descents (FD) invited me to spend a week whitewater kayaking in Montana with 11 other young adult survivors. I was excited, but terrified; I had been in a kayak exactly 5 times before, but never whitewater, and always with people I knew. I was especially scared that I would get out on the river and not be able to participate. Instead, the trip was completely life changing. First Descents brought each of us to those critical moments when our paralyzing fear sets in–I remember sitting in my kayak, “cryaking” as we termed it, looking down the river at a petrifying rapid, and the cancer-survivor self-doubters’ chorus “I CAN’T” was blaring in my head–except now, due to the incredible camaraderie developed between my fellow survivors, our guides, and our camp family, I was able to push past that petrifying fear, to mute the self-doubter chorus, and to do something that I previously thought was impossible. To say it was empowering is a gross understatement. Moreover, I was experiencing this with 11 other survivors who “got it”, and for many, with whom I had become close friends.
What’s “Team Here”, and What’s With this Challenge?
Over the week at First Descents, I (Chewie) grew especially close with three of my fellow campers (also by FD nickname): Mrs. Kemp, Pocaronas, & Spud. Our time at camp, and the advice of one of our guides in particular, underscored for each of us the importance of being present (HERE) and finding the courage to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone. To remind ourselves to continue to live by this philosophy after camp, we had a necklace made in the shape of Montana, engraved with the word “here”, which we pass from one person to the next. And while each is wearing it, we are reminded to challenge ourselves to channel the spirit of our FD adventure. While our personal challenges are different and varied, we wanted to work together to help give another young adult survivor the same life-changing experience we each had.
Chewie’s 30×30 Challenge
Here’s where this post comes full circle. As I began, I turn 30 this March. I want to start off this next decade of life by channeling the positive, empowering energy that came out of my first FD experience and helping a fellow survivor go to his or her first camp. One of the activities that I thought I would NEVER be able to do–and indeed, many others told me the same–was yoga. My right wrist, where my original tumor was, is fused because I elected to use my fibula to save my arm (after breaking the titanium bone we tried first, of course). Imagine some of the standard yoga poses, such as Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) or Bakasana (Crow), then try to imagine doing them with a fused wrist. Impossible, right? That’s what I thought too, for the longest time. But since First Descents camp, I’ve stepped up my yoga practice, and with the guidance and support of some of DC’s wonderful yoga teachers and a few amazing yogi friends, I’ve been developing, practicing, and honing a modified, yet challenging, yoga practice that helps me capture some of that empowerment I felt at camp every time I get on the mat.
Thanks to my graduate school and work schedule, at best, I get to practice yoga 3, maybe 4 times each week. However, for the month of March, I am challenging myself to attend a minimum of a 60-minute practice every day. 30×30: 30 years of life, 30 days of yoga (with an extra day thrown in for good measure or extra credit.) This will be as much a scheduling challenge as a physical challenge, but I hope that forcing myself to set time aside for me every day will establish a precedent that I can carry forward into this next decade.
Whether you want to follow along or make sure I’m holding up my end of the bargain, I will be tracking my 30×30 challenge on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, and here on this blog. I’ll share photos of my modified poses, successes & challenges on the mat, where I practiced and with whom, and other anecdotes along the way.
Every time I step on the mat, I will be dedicating my practice to bringing another survivor to camp. You can help me by contributing toward that effort. If you can give $3, $10, or even $30, all goes toward giving another young adult cancer survivor the experience of a lifetime. Plus, you’d make me a very happy birthday girl.
Many thanks friends. And here’s to the next 30.